Roundtable From Lisbon to the End of the World: Millenarianisms and Evangelization

AHA Session 125
Saturday, January 8, 2011: 9:00 AM-11:00 AM
Grand Ballroom Salon A (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
James M. Muldoon, Rutgers University and John Carter Brown Library
Stuart B. Schwartz, Yale University

Session Abstract

Much of Western civilization’s thought has been dominated by the hope for a better future –i.e. one that would reunite humankind and its creator, as forecast in the sacred books and which was constantly repeated and taught. As a result, not only were messianic, millennial and apocalyptic expressions continuously disseminated over the course of centuries, but evangelization also became a main topic of concern. In short, during Roman rule and from the Middle Ages to the Early Modern times, first the Jews and then the Christians waited for the moment of the end. This represented not only the end of this time, but more importantly, the beginning of a new era in which the elected ones would finally be able to dwell with God.
Time went by, centuries unfolded and the Parousia of Christ, while remaining an individual yearning of believers, also became a political necessity when Christendom was threatened by major opponents. From the eighth century onwards, mainly in Iberia, Islam was such opponent. Between the late eleventh century and the early thirteenth century after the conquest of the Holy Land, the name of Christ was repeatedly invoked for launching the Crusades. In Iberia this lasted until the late fifteenth century when it was used repeatedly to explain  their Maritime Expansion.
Thus, when the Portuguese -- and later the Spaniards, began voyaging to new points of the world and meeting new peoples, some thought they could at last consider the end of the world as if it were at hand. By believing that the end of times was close, many begun recalling the Bible, in particular Revelation and Daniel, and searched for a more accurate interpretation. Moreover, this was not only a Christian phenomenon, but it was also a Jewish one. While Christian and Jewish expectations are not completely the same, the final objective may be said to be similar.
This session’s main goal is to analyze how this eschatological hope developed within the Iberian world (the Peninsula and its new territories). Papers will deal with several political, cultural and religious phenomena ranging in time from the Middle Ages until the Early Modern Period. These works will not only compare different time frames, but also how individuals belonging to different social and ethnic groups were able to develop similar patterns whenever it concerned eschatological hope. In short, we will examine how this hope for the establishment of the divine kingdom was not only a timeless phenomenon, but one that trespassed religious and cultural boundaries. A case in point was the finding of new geographical spaces and peoples, especially in the American continent, which opened the doors for considering that the events described in the Bible were finally taking place. This may explain the persistence of the eschatological hope in Iberia in a period considered by many as no longer favorable to such quests in Europe.

See more of: AHA Sessions